Small is beautiful for Scotland's Electric Fields, a festival getting bigger and better each year
Small isn't always beautiful. For every Kylie Minogue the world has to offer, after all, there's a John Bercow or Bernie Ecclestone.
Small certainly isn’t invariably beautiful for music festivals either, judging by bitter experience of third-division events boasting negligible security, toilets capable of inducing nightmares years afterwards and rosters made up of nonentities, one-hit wonders and has-beens.
It most definitely is in the case of Dumfries and Galloway’s Electric Fields festival, however.
It started off as a one-day event of modest proportions and even now, five years on and having expanded to a three-dayer, it’s still miniscule in comparison to the likes of the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival or yesteryear’s T in the Park.
The upside of that is that its queues for bars or toilets and the time it takes to get from A to B are equally tiny, and, happily, there is no downside as far as I could discern.
The walk from car park to tent is less than five minutes, and the same goes for the distance from tent to main arena – a far cry from the weary trudges of half an hour or so laden down by camping gear that will be all too familiar to music fans used to bigger events.
Its turnout of 7,000 a day also means it’s impossible not to get a decent view of its main stage even without recouse to big screens alongside it.
Another factor in Electric Fields’ favour is that it’s got to be one of the most family-friendly festivals around, offering entertainment aplently, including a helter skelter and Ferris wheel, for youngsters.
One thing about the festival – held in the grounds of the imposing Drumlanrig Castle, near Thornhill and about 20 miles north of Dumfries – that isn’t small is the size of acts it’s able to offer these days, this year’s line-up being easily its biggest and best yet and punching well above its weight.
Headlining last Thursday were alternative rock veterans James, followed by ex-Oasis star Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds on Friday and electronic dance movement duo Leftfield on Saturday.
Supporting them were the likes of Ride, Ezra Furman, Idlewild, the Coral and Teenage Fanclub and lower down the bill were an abundance of acts well worth whiling away an hour or so of the afternoon with, many of them Scottish.
Two tributes were also paid to late Selkirk singer-songwriter Scott Hutchison, frontman for folk-rock act Frightened Rabbit, one of last year’s two headliners alongside Dizzee Rascal.
First up was a singalong to The Loneliness and the Scream, a track taken from the third Frightened Rabbit LP, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, a No 61 hit in 2010, and that was followed the next day by a playback of this year’s Dance Music, the only LP recorded by the 36-year-old’s other band, Mastersystem.
London’s Leftfield, together from 1989 t0 2002 and since 2010, played it safe with a set full of golden oldies, though that was dictated as much by the fact they haven’t released a new album for three years as by choice, but both Gallagher’s current band and James were more adventurous and unafraid to shun greatest-hits sets in favour of airing more recent material.
Manchester-born Gallagher included six of the 11 songs making up the standard version of his present band’s third and latest album, last November’s Who Built the Moon?, in an 18-track set lasting an hour and a half, including his first four tunes of the night.
The 51-year-old wasn’t oblivious to the fact that that wasn’t what most of those present were hoping for, though, and got a much more enthusiastic reception for the third of his set given over to Oasis classics – Little by Little, Whatever, Half the World Away, Wonderwall, Go Let it Out and Don’t Look Back in Anger – and for the cover of the 1967 Beatles single All You Need is Love that rounded off proceedings.
James, also formed in Manchester, back in 1982 and together from then until 2001 and since 2007, included half a dozen tracks from their latest LP too, last month’s Living in Extraordinary Times, in the 16 songs played during their 90-minute set.
They too were fully aware that what festival crowds want are hits they’re more familiar with and pandered to that with classics such as She’s a Star, Tomorrow, Sometimes and an acoustic version of Sit Down.
Theirs might well have been the best set of the weekend, thanks to the fact that their newer material is every bit the equal of their back catalogue, but Gallagher’s attracted a bigger turnout and sparked more singalongs.
Either way, both were excellent and, given that three days camping in attractive countryside was thrown in, well worth the pricetag of £95 to £132 for weekend tickets on their own, especially given the glorious weather on offer for the first two of the event’s three days.
They’ll be a hard act to follow, but Electric Fields has managed to raise its game each successive year since 2014 by a hefty margin, so it would be unwise to bet against it doing the same again in 2019.